Israel faces fifth election in three years

Israel is facing its fifth election in just three years after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said that they had “exhausted options to stabilise” their coalition government.

Israel’s parliament could begin the process of dissolving itself as soon as Wednesday, officials said on Tuesday. As foreseen by the coalition agreement, Lapid will become interim prime minister. Elections are likely to be held in October.

Bennett said in a televised address on Monday evening that the end of the government was not an “easy” moment but that having “turned every stone” to preserve the coalition, dissolving parliament was now the “right decision” for the country.

The eight-party coalition has been slowly fracturing in recent weeks. It has struggled to pass legislation after defections by MPs first robbed it of its one-seat majority and then tipped it into a minority administration.

Formed a year ago by various factions united in part by their desire to oust Israel’s long-serving leader Benjamin Netanyahu and his rightwing Likud party, Bennett and Lapid’s coalition was the most ideologically diverse in the country’s history.

It brought together rightwing religious nationalists and pro-peace leftists and included, for the first time in Israeli history, an independent Arab-Israeli Islamist party.

The coalition took office after a period of political deadlock that resulted in four elections in just two years. Despite its slender majority, it managed to pass Israel’s first budget in more than two years and helped steer the country through the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, its ideological divisions were never far from the surface, and in recent weeks defections and the government’s failure to pass various high-profile bills have prompted intense speculation about its durability.

Among the bills that have fallen short was one renewing rules that allow the application of parts of Israeli law to Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank. The regulations expire at the end of June, and Bennett hinted that forestalling that deadline was one of the reasons behind the decision to dissolve parliament. If elections are announced, the rules are automatically extended.

In his address, Lapid said that he would focus on the most pressing challenges facing Israel. “We need to tackle the cost of living, wage the campaign against Iran, Hamas and Hizbollah, and stand against the forces threatening to turn Israel into a non-democratic country,” he said.

The collapse of the government will give Netanyahu — who served as prime minister for a total of 15 years, including the period between 2009 and 2021 — and his Likud party a chance to return to office. Polls have suggested that Likud will be the biggest party in a new parliament but it is not clear whether it would also be able to form a coalition government.

Netanyahu hailed the demise of Bennett’s and Lapid’s administration and insisted that Likud would be able to form a new national government.

“After a resolute fight from the opposition in the Knesset and much suffering of the Israeli public, it’s clear to everyone that the most failing government in the history of the country has finished its journey,” he said.

“I think the winds have changed.”

Yohanan Plesner, head of the Israel Democracy Institute, said the decision to dissolve parliament showed that, rather than overcoming the problems in Israeli politics that had led to a series of inconclusive elections, Bennett and Lapid’s government had not ended “Israel’s worst political crisis” but instead merely pushed it into the background.

“This ongoing crisis will not come to an end until Israel’s leaders put their political differences aside and enact long-overdue electoral and constitutional reforms,” he said.

However, Plesner added that despite the government’s short tenure, it had “played a historical role by including an Arab party in the coalition and in the decisions made by the national leadership, and therefore paving the way for the possibility of more inclusion by the Arab minority in the political process and Israeli society as a whole”.

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